Visiting the Long Beach Peninsula

By | April 14, 2018

The long Beach Peninsula is a 20-minute drive up the west coast from the south Washington border (click this image for an un-cropped version that better shows the long beach). The peninsula features a 28-mile (45 km) sand beach, which is the longest “drivable beach” in the US, and one of the longest in the world. This Wikipedia article will tell you some of the mundane stuff about the peninsula, and more info is available at this visitors’ bureau site.

The towns on the peninsula are Ilwaco, Seaview, Long Beach, Klipsan Beach, Ocean Park, Surfside Estates on the west side; then Oysterville and Nahcotta on the east. Aside from the very long beach, the highlight of the peninsula is the Cape Disappointment State Park.

If you want to head to the city, see my post on Visiting Portland.
For more about the area, including heading in and out of the airport, check out my post Visiting the Pacific Northwest.

Getting there

If you are coming from the Portland area, it is a 2-hour drive west, or 2.5 to 3 hours from PDX. There are several direct routes to the Long Beach Peninsula from Portland taking either Highway 26 or Highway 30. They will take about the same amount of time and both are fairly scenic, so here are things to consider when choosing between the two routes:

  • The Highway 26 route is the most direct if you are starting from Beaverton or Hillsboro. It takes you over the Coastal Range Pass to Highway 101, then you head north from there through Seaside to Astoria. (About halfway there you’ll pass the Camp 18 Restaurant — a nice place to stop.) Going over the pass means if it is winter (or early spring or late autumn) you’ll need to check weather conditions before going. Take it from me: I totaled my car on that pass after an encounter with black ice!
  • The Highway 30 way is a much windier route that hugs the Washington border, taking you through several tiny towns along the way. I like how this breaks things up, and it provides opportunities to stop for pie on the way. I like this route as it approaches Astoria from a less commercial side of town.

Either way, you’ll cross over into Washington in Astoria. Want to cross into Washington earlier? Take the Highway 30 route, take the bridge across in Longview, then the rest of your trip west will be on Highway 4. This takes a little longer to drive, but not too much.

If you want want to turn it into a scenic road trip, the most beautiful route from Portland by far (without taking the tiny back-roads) is to take Interstate 5 south to Salem, then head west on Highway 22, then up the coast on Highway 101. This will take quite a while and would be far more enjoyable if you do it in two days, stopping overnight on the coast.

Restaurants on the Peninsula

For the best variety of good restaurants, you might prefer to head south for about 20 minutes and cross the bridge into Astoria, Oregon. But if you want to stay on the peninsula, here are some restaurants you may enjoy:

  • Bailey’s Bakery and Cafe: Home-made baked goods, soups, and sandwiches that may well be the best you have ever had. Open for breakfast and lunch only.Simply put: you don’t want to miss this place. From Ilwaco, head up on sand Ridge road (veer right at Black Lake) and go 20 minutes north. It will be on your right in Nahcotta Washington. Come early or the amazing scones will be all gone!
  • Shelburne Inn: The best all around dinner restaurant on the peninsula. It has a nice if not somewhat pretentious restaurant on one side, and a small, friendly pub on the other side. This place is a nice-looking B&B… I’ve always meant to stay there sometime.
  • Serious Pizza: Located in Ilwaco, this is the best pizza on the peninsula by far (and some say the best on the west coast). It’s the only place I’ve found in the U.S. where I can get pizza similar to what you find in Italy.
  • The lost Roo: This is more of a “sports bar” type of casual burger restaurant… Noisy, trendy and popular with the younger crowd.

The following restaurants are particularly nice and therefore on the more expensive side:

Cape Disappointment: Waikiki Beach

Weather permitting, one of the nicest areas on the Peninsula is in the Cape Disappointment State Park, which features numerous campgrounds (which need to be booked in advance), two lighthouses (with caretaker buildings for rent), fantastic hiking to beautiful Pacific Ocean views and great beaches. One of the nicest beaches in the park is Waikiki beach, which includes a nice trail system for hiking the bluffs overlooking the beach.

Accessing the Park: The Washington State Park system requires all cars using the park parking lots to have a pass displayed in the car, and they are pretty strict about enforcing this: it is a $99 fine for parking your car without the pass. See more info including a link to purchase the pass online on the Discover Pass page, or you can call them at (866) 320-9933.

Getting in the Water

Even in the summer, you’ll want a wet suit when you swim in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Washington (and Oregon), and in the winter a full-on dry suit is definitely a must. The surfing and kayaking on the peninsula are pretty good (although, admittedly, the photo to the right is showing a best-ever surfing day — click on it to enlarge it). This TripAdvisor page has some surfing reviews. Here’s a video of the beach, and a video of the stormy surf that shows the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in the background and which demonstrates constructive interference of the incoming and reflective waves. North Jetty is the tide station closest to Benson Beach. This tide table is appropriate for understanding the tides at Waikiki Beach.

If you’re a kayaker, the peninsula has some nice put-ins, and this is a wonderful place for kayak surfing. Click on the image for a great photo that shows how gnarly this can get.

Here’s what Tim Mattson (a local expert kayaker, despite what you see in his Stupid Kayaking Tricks videos, and the kayaker in this photo [click it to enlarge]), says about kayaking on the peninsula:

You won’t find a place to rent a kayak on the peninsula, because conditions can range from boring to deadly rather quickly as the tide turns.

Kayaking on the west side of the peninsula puts you in the pacific ocean with breaking surf. It is for intermediate to advanced paddlers only.

Kayaking in the Willapa bay on the east shore of the peninsula is often safe for beginners. There is a nice place to launch your kayak in Nahcotta just down the road from Bailey’s Cafe. You must be careful about the tides, however, since many parts of the Willapa bay turns into a mud flat at low tide. This can be very dangerous as you would be stranded in the mud until the tide turns and fills the bay with water again. That gives you plenty of time for life-threatening hypothermia. Also, pay close attention to the wind forecasts since they frequently get winds that exceed what novice kayakers can handle.

Cape Disappointment and Baker Bay have wonderful kayaking opportunities for novice to advanced kayakers. You can launch your kayak at the boat ramp in the State Park or at the Ilwaco Harbor. Once again, pay close attention to weather forecasts. It doesn’t take long for winds over 15 knots (common in the area) to turn flat water into dangerous choppy water. When paddling around Cape Disappointment, you must also pay close attention to the tides. Basically, as you move past high tide, the current changes direction pushing unwary paddlers out to sea (this is called an ebb current). These currents are strong and often move faster than most paddlers can handle. Getting caught in an ebb and swept out to sea over the Columbia Bar is a serious hazard and surprisingly easy to occur if you don’t know how to use tide and current forecasts. It is for these reasons that novice paddlers are cautioned against paddling in the waters around Cape Disappointment.